Everyone's made mistakes right? We all want the chance to go back and change things if we could - yes? Well what if you could go back and change a crucial event in your life - right a wrong, fix something that was broken - would you do it?
This is the premise for the film The Butterfly Effect, taking its name from the idea of chaos theory in that if a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil then there will be a tornado in Texas. Really the idea that every action affects everything around us whether we see it or not.
Ashton Kutcher plays Evan, a man who when growing up has lost whole parts of his time into a black hole of forgetting. His childhood is marred by a series of terrible events he cannot remember; events that also affected his friends Kayleigh, Lenny and Tommy. In order to try and make sense of his life, a psychologist suggests he keep a journal to keep track of events.
Years later when in college Evan is re-reading one his journals and finds himself thrown back in time. His present day mind is transported back into his childhood self and he finds that as well as reliving his supressed past, he can effect events with his knowledge of the future. Realising that his journals provide a portal into the past, Evan decides to reclaim his lost memories and change his and his friends' lives for the better. However, his efforts have unexpected and disastrous consequences . . .
The idea behind this film is not new. People who have seen Donnie Darko last year will be very familiar with the idea of changing the past to effect the present. Even further back you had the excellent Time After Time with Malcolm McDowell chasing Jack The Ripper through time. So The Butterfly Effect is hardly original. But it is pretty good.
It's slow to start and a little confusing at first, as things happen to Evan that are not initially explained, and you have to concentrate on the story to really connect with it. This is hopefully the film-maker's intention, because if you persist and make it to the middle of the film then things pick up and some really clever writing is present as Evan changes the past and comes back to a completely different present each time. One of the cleverest new versions sees him as a college jock with a beautiful girlfriend (his childhood sweetheart Kayleigh) and total popularity. This is not what he wants though, as Kayleigh's brother Tommy comes along one night and attacks them both. Evan fights back, and as he is so strong in this present he beats Tommy to death and ends up in prison for it. He must then try and escape back to the future (excuse the pun) to change the past again.
It is this zipping back and forth that could get a little tedious, and yes, there are strains of Groundhog Day in The Butterfly Effect, but the script by J Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress is really strong in both ideas and execution.
Having no experience of seeing Kutcher on screen previously, I came to his performance fresh, and I feel that in time he will grow into a good actor. He handles the dramatic scenes with seriousness and the lighter ones with a good sense of humour.
Amy Smart as Kayleigh is a little underwritten, but she plays her part adequately, even flexing her acting muscles as a junkie in one sequence.
Evan's best friend Lenny (Elden Henson) gets a bigger part to sink his teeth into as the story sees his character affected every time Evan goes back. He is mad at one point in an asylum, successful at another point and catatonic in yet another, meaning he can really play with his role.
Tommy - Kayleigh's brother (William Lee Scott) - could be seen as the film's villain, as he gets to terrorise, overact and be really mean to the others. The directing is taut in places but a little sloppy in others; we spend a lot of time in the film with the characters as kids and sometimes this gets annoying in the first half and hour.
But overall The Butterfly Effect is a film worth seeing if you have ever asked yourself the question, 'what if Hitler had lived?' or, 'What if my parents had never met, would I still exist?' It raises some great questions and some dumb ones too, and is great fun Friday night entertainment.
It is not nearly as intelligent or cerebral as Donnie Darko but it is light years ahead of the writers' and directors' last film; the average Final Destination 2. See this after a few beers with friends and argue for hours over the events in the films and all the 'what if' questions you can think up!
:: Mark Cappuccio